The Ryan Pace Ledger: Arrow pointing down
A look at Pace’s 30 biggest moves in seven years as the Bears’ general manager tells the story: He has had some hits (Mack, Hicks, Roquan), but big misses at quarterback (Trubisky, Glennon, Foles) and head coach (Nagy) push the scale into the negative.
Mike Glennon seemed like an odd choice, even as a bridge quarterback, when Bears third-year general manager Ryan Pace ended the Jay Cutler era in 2017. Glennon was 5-13 as a starter in three seasons with the Buccaneers and played in two games in 2016 as a backup to No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston.
Only the Buccaneers seemed that interested in him. Yet Pace paid a big price for an unproven quarterback — signing Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract, with $18.5 million guaranteed.
Pace at the time, though, still was the personnel guy who had a hand in the Saints’ prescient decision to sign Drew Brees as their franchise quarterback. So he had some quarterback-evaluation cachet. But the Glennon signing still elicited the dubious response: What does Ryan Pace know about Mike Glennon that we don’t?
As it turned out, nothing. Glennon, who was anointed the starter even after the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky second overall, struggled from the beginning of training camp and had eight turnovers in four regular-season starts before he was benched in favor of Trubisky. He never threw another pass for the Bears and was cut following the season.
In the end, Pace saw something in Glennon that just wasn’t there — the “it” factor — an evaluation flaw that in retrospect was a red flag for Pace’s quarterback intuition. “He has a natural leadership style to him,” Pace said of Glennon. “He’s very charismatic.”
That wasn’t Glennon’s reputation coming out of N.C. State in 2013. In fact, Pro Football Weekly’s respected Draft Preview saw the opposite: “Lacks the personality and leadership traits desired on the front line and is best suited in the pros in a backup role,” draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki wrote. That turned out to be the more accurate evaluation.
Glennon returns to Soldier Field this weekend with the Giants — an unfortunate reminder of Pace’s struggle to evaluate quarterbacks. Pace has had his hits and misses in seven years as the GM, but the overall ledger tilts into the negative because he has struck out in his biggest at-bats: trading up for Trubisky, hiring Matt Nagy, signing Glennon, trading for Nick Foles. And Justin Fields hasn’t been good enough soon enough to even begin to alter that narrative.
There just aren’t enough mid-round draft successes to tip the scale in Pace’s favor. And that’s another factor in evaluating Pace’s tenure: While his misses are forever — Trubisky, Glennon, Kevin White, Adam Shaheen, et al. — his hits have been too fleeting.
Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen aren’t the impact players they were in their first two seasons. Jordan Howard became a bad fit for Nagy’s offense. Adrian Amos became too expensive to keep.
Even the biggest hits aren’t the players they once were. Wide receiver Allen Robinson, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, linebacker Danny Trevathan, Akiem Hicks. Even Khalil Mack no longer is the runaway hit he was in 2018 — playing just seven games this season.
Outside of Roquan Smith and maybe running back David Montgomery, almost every other potential hit has a lot to prove. Drafting Fields was a master stroke by Pace, but Fields has a long way to go to make people forget Trubisky. Tight end Cole Kmet, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and wide receiver Darnell Mooney are in their second season. Offensive tackles Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom are rookies.
In Pace’s seven seasons as general manager, the Bears are 47-64 (.423) with one winning season and two playoff berths — that’s just cause for dismissal by NFL standards.
In fairness, Pace inherited a mess. But five years after a two-year teardown, the Bears are still spinning their wheels — 5-10 heading into the game Sunday against the Giants.
Nagy is almost certain to be fired after the season. Should that be Pace’s call? Or should Pace himself be part of the housecleaning? The record is enough for most Bears fans to make their decision. Here’s a look at Pace’s 30 most impactful moves to put his seven-year ledger in a more specific relief (rated HIT, MISS or HIT/MISS because the jury’s still out):
1. Drafted Mitch Trubisky (MISS)
It wasn’t just that Pace thought Trubisky was the best quarterback in a draft that also included Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes. It’s that he was so sure of it, he was compelled to trade up one spot to make sure he got him.
Pace could have targeted Trubisky and settled for Watson or Mahomes if another team jumped him. Instead he was so worried about losing Trubisky that he traded a 2017 third-round pick (No. 67), a 2017 fourth-round pick (No. 111) and a 2018 third-round pick to move from No. 3 to No. 2.
“When you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands,” Pace said on draft night. “I just don’t want to be average around here. I want to be great. And these are the moves you have to make.”
2. Hired Matt Nagy (MISS)
A year after the Rams hit the jackpot with Sean McVay as a tutor for Jared Goff — taking the Rams from 32nd to first in scoring in one season — Pace tried to replicate that success with Nagy, an Andy Reid disciple with limited play-calling experience.
Nagy proved to be excellent as the CEO part of head coaching — developing a great rapport with his players on both sides of the ball. “He’s one of the best player-coaches I’ve ever had,” Jackson said. “He truly cares about his players.” But Nagy’s offense has been a disappointment — ranking 21st, 29th, 26th and 26th in total yards and 12th, 29th, 22nd and 28th in points.
Pace’s five other interviews were defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator George Edwards and Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.
3. Traded for Khalil Mack (HIT)
The same aggressiveness that led to the Trubisky error paid dividends when the Bears outbid the Packers among others for the 28-year-old Mack, a three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher and former Defensive Player of the Year who was a contract holdout with the Raiders.
Pace paid a heavy price, but nobody was squawking about it, He traded two first-round draft picks in the deal, then signed Mack to a seven-year, $141 million contract — eclipsing Aaron Donald’s six-year, $135 million extension to make Mack the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.
There’s the rub. While Mack is showing wear-and-tear at 30, Donald has been the best defensive player in the NFL over the last four seasons and is still going strong.
4. Drafted Roquan Smith (HIT)
The Bears probably needed once-in-a-generation guard Quenton Nelson of Notre Dame more, but the Colts took Nelson at No. 6 and the Bears took Smith at No. 8 and haven’t regretted it.
After a rare rookie contract holdout, Smith has been one of the best inside linebackers in football. An All-Pro second-team selection last season, Smith is already in a class with Lance Briggs as a tackle machine, and potentially in Brian Urlacher’s class as a playmaker.
5. Signed Mike Glennon (MISS)
In retrospect, it’s Pace’s misevaluation of Glennon that stands out. The actual on-field damage was relatively minimal. Pace got out of the deal after one year, though $18.5 million for four games was a pretty hefty price. And Trubisky was still starting by the fifth game of his rookie season.
6. Signed Akiem Hicks (HIT)
A complementary player with the Saints and Patriots, Hicks was a perfect fit as a lead-role 3-4 defensive end in Vic Fangio’s defense and became an underrated star and team leader. He had 23 sacks in his first three seasons and made the Pro Bowl in 2018 before injuries took their toll.
7. Drafted Justin Fields (tbd)
Seemingly out of the running for a loaded quarterback draft class with the 20th overall pick, Pace jumped at the opportunity to get Fields — considered by some the No. 2 quarterback in the draft behind Trevor Lawrence — when he dropped out of the top 10. Pace traded a 2022 first-round pick to the Giants for the 11th pick to get him. The move itself is a hit. But at the end of a rocky rookie year, Fields is not yet a sure thing.
8. Drafted Kevin White (MISS)
With Alabama’s Amari Cooper gone at No. 4, Pace settled for the less-refined but talented White at No. 7. White played just five games in his first three seasons because of injuries. But even when he was healthy, he never showed any of the skills that made him a top-10 pick.
9. Traded for Nick Foles (MISS)
Looking for a veteran to push the struggling Trubisky in 2020, the Bears paid a heavy price for another struggling quarterback. They traded a fourth-round draft pick and guaranteed Foles $21 million over three years in a contract restructure.
Trubisky won the “competition” in camp, but Foles took over in Week 3 and went 2-5 with an 80.8 passer rating as a starter.
10. Signed Allen Robinson (HIT)
Pace took a bit of a chance with a three-year, $42 million contract in free agency for Robinson, who was coming off a torn ACL he suffered in Week 1 with the Jaguars in 2017. It paid off, as Robinson became the go-to receiver Trubisky needed and had back-to-back seasons of 1,147 yards and 1,250 yards in 2019-20. But, after getting the franchise tag following the 2020 season, Robinson’s production strangely plunged in 2021.
11. Drafted Adam Shaheen (MISS)
The 6-7, 270-pound Shaheen looked like Rob Gronkowski at Division II Ashland and was a rising star in the pre-draft process. Pace bit in the second round (45th overall), but Shaheen looked like a below-average athlete at the NFL level, couldn’t stay healthy and lasted three unproductive years.
12. Hired John Fox (HIT/MISS)
Pairing the 60-year-old Fox with the 38-year-old Pace wasn’t the worst idea. But Fox didn’t play a bad hand well and went 14-34 in three seasons. Still, Fox hired Vic Fangio, who is responsible for much of the success of the Pace era.
13. Drafted Eddie Jackson (HIT)
A broken leg at Alabama dropped Jackson into the fourth round and Pace took advantage. But Jackson needs a career rejuvenation at 28.
14. Cut Robbie Gould/
signed Cody Parkey (MISS)
The mistake wasn’t so much cutting Gould, but not having a capable replacement. After Connor Barth lasted 26 games over two seasons, Pace signed Parkey to a four-year, $15 million contract, with $9 million guaranteed, in 2018. Parkey was 23 of 30 on field goals (76.7%) and infamously missed a 43-yarder that hit the upright and crossbar that would have won the wild-card playoff game against the Eagles. He was cut after that season.
15. Drafted Eddie Goldman (HIT)
A second-round draft pick (39th overall) in 2015, Goldman blossomed in Fangio’s defense and was a Pro Bowl alternate under Chuck Pagano in 2019 but hasn’t been the same since.
16. Drafted David Montgomery (HIT)
The Bears traded Jordan Howard, then traded up from No. 87 to No. 73 in the third round of the 2019 draft to get Montgomery as a “better fit” for Nagy’s offense. He has been productive and versatile, with 1,508 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns in 2020.
17. Drafted Leonard Floyd (HIT/MISS)
Never justified being the No. 9 overall pick in the 2016 draft — with 18.5 sacks in four seasons. But still became a valuable defender in Fangio’s defense. Has 19.5 sacks in 31 games with the Rams.
18. Drafted Cody Whitehair/
James Daniels (HIT)
The two second-round picks — Whitehair 56th overall in 2016; Daniels 39th overall in 2018 — have been versatile mainstays on the interior line, though neither has blossomed into a star. Whitehair made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2018.
19. Traded Martellus Bennett/
Brandon Marshall (HIT/MISS)
Two talented offensive players who were problematic personalities. Pace traded Marshall to the Jets for a sixth-round pick (safety Adrian Amos). He traded Bennett to the Patriots for a fourth-round pick (cornerback Deiondre’ Hall).
20. Drafted Anthony Miller (MISS)
The Bears traded a 2019 second-round pick to the Patriots for a second-round pick (51st overall) in the 2018 draft to get Miller, a wide receiver from Memphis. He had talent — 134 receptions for 1,564 yards and 11 touchdowns in three seasons — but proved too undisciplined to be counted on and was traded to the Texans last offseason. He’s now with the Steelers.
21. Signed Robert Quinn (HIT, for now)
This looked like a colossal mistake when Quinn had two sacks in 15 games after signing a five-year, $70 million contract ($30 million guaranteed) in 2020. But Quinn responded with a big season in 2021, with 17 sacks — a half-sack shy of Richard Dent’s franchise record — with two games to go. But it’ll take more than one big season for this signing to end up in the hit category.
22. Signing Andy Dalton (MISS)
Dalton was at least three years removed from has last productive season when the Bears signed him to a one-year contract — under the pretense that he would be the starter. That complicated matters when Fields was drafted and helped create another awkward quarterback dynamic in 2021.
23. Signed Danny Trevathan (HIT)
Signed to a four-year, $28 million contract in 2016 after leading the Super Bowl champion Broncos in tackles in 2015, Trevathan’s production and leadership played a key role in the defense’s growth under Fangio. It convinced the Bears to re-sign him to a three-year, $27 million contract in 2020 — over the younger Nick Kwiatkoski — but Trevathan’s role diminished in 2021 and played in only five games because of injuries.
24. Drafted Darnell Mooney (HIT)
A fifth-round draft pick from Tulane in 2020, Mooney has been everything Anthony Miller wasn’t — mature and disciplined, with a keen understanding of the nuances of the wide receiver position. It’s early, but he has Pro Bowl potential in a good offense.
25. Signed Cairo Santos (HIT)
Won the kicking job by default when Eddy Pineiro was sidelined by a groin injury in camp in 2020 and never lost it. Solidified a problem position for Pace, making a franchise-record 40 consecutive field goals — tied for the third-longest streak in NFL history.
26. Cut Jay Cutler (HIT)
After Cutler started five games in 2016 because of a sprained thumb and a torn labrum, Pace moved on and saved $12 million in salary cap space by releasing Cutler, ending his tumultuous eight-year Bears career.
27. Cut Kyle Fuller (MISS)
Salary cap constraints caught up to Pace last offseason and Fuller — a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback — was cut to create space. It proved problematic when the Bears couldn’t fill his spot opposite Jaylon Johnson.
28. Drafted Adrian Amos (HIT)
One of Pace’s early mid-round finds, Amos was a sixth-round draft pick who started at safety as a rookie. He got better every year — and too costly for Pace when free agency beckoned in 2019. He signed a four-year, $37 million contract with the Packers — and as it turns out, he was worth it.
29. Signed Pernell McPhee (HIT)
Pace’s first big-ticket free agent in 2015 — five years, $40 million. He expected McPhee to blossom in a starring role with the Bears after being productive as a role player with the Ravens. It didn’t work out that way, but McPhee — when healthy — still energized a defense that had hit rock-bottom in 2014.
30. Signed Trey Burton (MISS)
Pace likewise hoped Burton would emerge as a No. 1 option at tight end after playing in the shadow of Zach Ertz and Brent Celek on the Super Bowl champion Eagles when he signed him to a four-year, $32 million contract in 2018. He was good enough in 2018, but suffered a mysterious groin injury before facing his former team in the playoffs — and never was the same. He was cut after playing just five games in 2019.